I’ve just returned from the Association of Golf Writers Home International matches at The Belfry, the consequences of which can be explained by this simple formula:
24 golf journalists + superb weather + excellent golf courses – copy deadlines = 48 tired legs + a rather hefty bar bill
Each year six golf writers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland meet to battle for the prestigious Home Internationals title. This was the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to be selected to represent Scotland.
The venue for this year’s contest was The Belfry where we played a round on the PGA National course and two rounds on the famous Brabazon course – site of four Ryder Cup matches and numerous great golfing moments: Christie O’Connor Jnr’s 2-iron to the last, McGinley’s leap, Sam’s lofted arms, Seve driving the 10th etc…
The 10th very nearly witnessed another historic golfing moment during our first match against the Irish. Paul Gallagher from the Irish Times fired a majestic shot over the water into the narrow target that ended just three inches from the cup. Apparently there has never been a hole-in-one at the 10th through the Brabazon’s 30-year history. I doubt anyone has come much closer to breaking the duck.
It was a great shot and a kick in the teeth for my partner Mike Aitken and me. We’d battled hard to reduce our deficit to just one at the turn (the matches are played to the greensomes format by the way) but Gallagher’s “wunder-shot” was a harsh blow and one we didn’t recover from. We lost 2&1 and Ireland won the match by 2-1. In the other contest, Wales proved too strong for England taking their match by 3-0.
It was a similar story for the Scots on day two as Matt Lindsay and I were unable to deal with the relentless par making of Welsh pairing John Hopkins and Simon Curle. Scotland once again lost the match by 2-1.
Simon is so good out of fairway bunkers that Matt and I wondered if Hoppy was actually aiming for them at one point. Twice during our match, and once the day before apparently, Simon blasted out of sand more than 150 yards from the green and ended just feet from the cup. Matt and I had sore teeth by the end of the match from the number of times we’d clenched them to say, “good shot.”
Ireland saw off the English so the final day witnessed the title decider between Ireland and Wales and, the far more important, wooden spoon decider between the Scots and the “Auld Enemy.”
After a night spent enjoying the wonderful food on offer in The Belfry’s character-filled “French Restaurant” and, afterwards, the wonderful booze on offer in The Belfry’s well-stocked bar. The scene on the 1st tee the next morning at 8am was not a pretty one – think general dishevelment and confusion.
Nick Rodger and I were off first and things didn’t start brilliantly. We had to use his skied drive as mine ended stymied behind a tree, I then topped the second, he hooked it into a water hazard that doesn’t even appear on the yardage chart then, after I’d dropped and thinned a pitch over the green, we decided to concede.
Thankfully our opponents Jim Mossop and Tony Stenson were in generous mood and began a tour of the Brabazon’s attractive water features in order to give us a chance. Unfortunately, Jim and Tony became so caught up in their aquatic explorations that Nick and I were able to sneak our way to victory while they were distracted by the reeds and lilies.
We managed a 2-1 win over England to avoid the wooden spoon while the Welsh took the title with a narrow, last-hole, victory over Ireland. Well played boys.
A word must be said on the immaculate condition of the courses we played at The Belfry. The greens were simply awesome, lightning-fast on both tracks, though slightly firmer on the PGA National reflecting their successful efforts to give the course links-like playing characteristics.
The Belfry has worked hard in recent seasons to produce and present quality courses that provide visitors with value for money. I certainly haven’t seen a course turned out better than the Brabazon for quite some time.
It’s a fantastic “play and stay” venue and we enjoyed a wonderful couple of days. Although it’s competitive to a point, the main purpose of the AGW Home Internationals (just like all social golf trips) is to enjoy the camaraderie, the jokes and the stories. The Belfry was the perfect place to do just that.